During World War II, the Office of Price Administration rationed elastic for the war effort. Manufacturers and homemakers alike replaced elastic waistbands with side buttons in women's underwear. No shortage exists for sewing elastic in the 21st century. Manufacturers combine rubber or polyurethane with cotton, nylon and polyester to create forms of elastic for comfort and style. Elastic for sewing comes in many forms and degrees of elasticity.
Elastics are braided, knitted, woven or clear, with nylon, cotton, polyurethane or polyester fabric coverings. Braided elastic has lengthwise ribs and when extended, it becomes narrower. Seamstresses usually sew only the ends or edges of braided elastic as sewing through this construction causes loss of stretch. This elastic works well in a casing or a waistband tube of fabric. Stitches do not damage knitted elastic, and it is a soft product that does not narrow when extended. You can sew knitted elastic directly to the wrong side of the fabric. Woven elastic looks like tiny windowpanes and is soft, but thick. It doesn't get narrower when stretched and can be sewn through. Use woven elastic for heavy fabrics. Clear elastic works well with knit fabrics and provides lightweight elastic for necklines and armholes. Clear elastic helps the neckline or armholes hug the body but rolls on itself easily. It works best sewn directly to the backside of the fabric with the facing.
Elastic comes in different widths and styles to accommodate the seamstress. You may choose nonlatex elastic if you sew for children or others sensitive to latex. Clear elastic is polyurethane-based elastic that does not include latex. Nonroll elastic does not roll on itself when stretched. Gripper elastic has a rough surface to hold your shirt in place or keep your swimming costume down. Cycling elastic or waistband elastic are names for gripper elastic. Buttonhole elastic allows for lengthening or shortening the waistband. Soft pajama elastic or underwear elastic makes it ideal for stitching to the backside of the fabric, where it touches the skin without scratching.
When using any sewing elastic, wash it first. Polyurethane or clear elastic needs stretching before use. It gets longer as you stretch the first few times. For clear elastic, use the stitching line to determine the length and sew the elastic in a relaxed position -- not stretched -- with a Teflon foot on your sewing machine if you have one. You don't want clear elastic to pucker or decrease the size of the neckline or arm holes. Some elastic has a stitching guide along the edge, making application directly to the fabric easier. Buttonhole elastic has buttonholes at 1-inch intervals to cinch the waistline or extend it. Maternity garments and children's clothing are uses for buttonhole elastic.
Elastic thread is a covered elastic core used as the bobbin thread for shirring or small decorative gathers like smocking. Your bobbin winder should allow winding the elastic thread onto the bobbin automatically, but if necessary, you can wind it by hand. Place slight pressure when winding to stretch the elastic thread lightly.
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- University of Nebraska Lincoln; Sewing with Elastic; Rose Marie Tondl; 2000
- Ancestry.com; World War II Deprivations in the United States; Billy J. Baker; 2005
- "Threads"; The Great Elastic Waistband; Linda Lee; November 2008
- Kalico Fabric: Sewing Elastic - Does It Really Make a Difference What Kind You Use?
- Patternreview.com; Using Clear Elastic to Stabilize Necklines; Deepika; June 2004